That was one of George Whitman's phrases, a man who, since his passing, has inspired so many a eulogy online. I only remember him in a thankful haze, but I laughed in recognition when I read this post - with him exclaiming, "That person was a lunatic!" I, too, attended the Sunday teas where I met a panoply of characters: an attached young man who knit his own sweaters (obvious without his admission), who was studying at Le Cordon Bleu, and who would sometimes bring me food he had made in class - what special gifts. There was also the Parisian who claimed - I still shudder at the thought - he would cut pictures out of library books and paste them onto the ceiling of his chambre de bonne.
It was an incredible time to be in Paris, though, perhaps anyone would say that of any charismatic city. There was a Walter Benjamin retrospective at the Pompidou: Le Passant, La Trace, and I am happy to have come to that thinker in such a tactile way: looking through the stereoscopes and at the toys and placards that shaped Benjamin's mind as child and adult - that made up the "modern city" in which he was a passer-by.
I am reminiscing about Paris, but mostly about those who I have known and who have passed on, because I was thinking about such things deep into the night. I suppose I am approaching middle age, well, its lower limits, and I was thinking of the models I hope to emulate if I reach the apex of maturity, like my dear friend I wrote of here.
Yet, I am also relieved that my morning reading brought me to the thought of place as well as people, for it has given me new avenues for thought. How much is place etched into our heart and vice versa? Here, one of the central museums has long closed its shuttered eyes; a winter liability with the mammoth icicles that hang themselves from its upper stories while intrepid locals pass by below. Le passant, la trace... What is the purpose of our lives, what is the trace we hope to leave behind, that little snail trail, always threatened by effacement. Yet is it not also in tandem with place that we make our claim to having lived? Even in this modern age, we are still like plants, needing some soil in which to pot our dancing feet.
In the Benjamin exhibit, he is also presented as one in exile - thus begins the modern tension between several geographic belongings: but as the curator showed: Benjamin is Berlin. Benjamin is Paris. He is also, he is both. I often imagine such paradoxes in Rilke: born in Prague, reborn in Russia, learning to speak in Paris, then wandering to Trieste, Munich, Ronda, Sierre... No wonder he invested so much into trying to reach the universal. And this is the note on which I will rest. All I can do is to try to figure out a tiny part of the equation explaining human experience, make one tessera of contribution. I decided not to worry this year, so all that is left is to live in good faith, and preserve any silvery trails like treasures.